In this update, Global Forest Watch publishes a roundup of top forest news from around the world. Many of these stories demonstrate the power of spatial analysis and open data in monitoring and analyzing forest change and improving forest landscapes.

To learn more about GFW, a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system, click here, or follow us on twitter at @globalforests.

Top Reads of the Week:

  • Tackling deforestation in your Twix. Mars, Inc., the candy company known for treats like M&Ms and Snickers, has joined a growing number of industries making commitments to more sustainable palm oil production. Their new deforestation policy requires suppliers to have fully sustainable and traceable palm oil by the end of 2015. The policy also covers other commodities that drive deforestation, such as beef, pulp and paper, and soy.
  • Forest loss increases when parks lose protected status. Between 1995 and 2013, the federal government and three state governments in Brazil removed the protected status of 2.5 million hectares across the Amazon. A new study [Portuguese] by GFW partner Imazon found that deforestation increased an average of 50 percent across five years within areas stripped of protective status. They report that areas often lose protective status due to infrastructure development, such as hydroelectric dam construction, and illegal occupation of lands. (Mongabay)
  • A fresh look at the link between conflict and deforestation in Congo. The civil wars of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — from 1997-1997 and 1998-2003 — resulted in millions of deaths and millions more displaced, driving victims of conflict deep into forests. New satellite imagery analysis by researchers from GFW partner the University of Maryland investigated the connection between displacement and habitat destruction. The study found that annual rates of primary forest loss during war were more than twice the rates of periods of peace. (Biological Conservation; the Smithsonian Magazine)
  • Analysis links Indonesia haze to oil palm, timber and logging companies. The state of Riau recently announced a state of emergency as thick haze blanketed the region. The culprit? According to new WRI analysis, roughly half of these fires are burning on land managed by oil palm, timber, and logging companies. This latest installment in an ongoing series by WRI exemplifies how the GFW platform can be used to monitor fires.

Land use change and deforestation

  • Narco-deforestation: a new trend in Central America?  Research published in Science journal found that strips of pristine forest in Guatemala and Honduras are being cleared to facilitate the transportation of illegal drugs. The authors urge for smart drug policy reform that would address this often-overlooked driver of deforestation.
  • When a photo is worth a million hectares. The Guardian produced a series of striking photos that reveal expansive destruction in Indonesia’s forests – home to the endangered orangutan and red-nosed monkey.

Land tenure and indigenous rights

  • One left dead in local Indonesia oil palm confrontation. One member of the Suku Anak Dalam indigenous community in Sumatra was left dead after a confrontation with security personnel of a PT-Asiatic Persada-owned oil palm concession. Eco-Business reports that this group supplies the oil trader Wilmar International, whose “no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation” policy includes language on respecting local land tenure and human rights.  
  • Big words, little action on local land rights. The 2014 annual report from the Rights and Resources Initiative found that land reform benefiting local communities has slowed in recent years, and that governments still overwhelmingly claim ownership of forest land. The study assesses several mechanisms that have the potential to transform land rights, including REDD+, industry commitments, and voluntary government agreements.

Industry and forests

  • An about-face for Asia Pulp and Paper? APP, the largest pulp and paper producer in Indonesia, has long been perceived by many as one of the worst offenders when it comes to deforestation. Mongabay founder Rhett Butler, writing for Yale 360, provides an in-depth view of the recent moves by APP to address forest destruction in its operations through a new forest conservation policy.
  • Momentum gains for oil palm sustainability commitments… Palm oil: it is one of the most widely used agricultural products in the world, found in half of the products in any given supermarket. But, its production can destroy forests, threaten habitats, and impact wildlife. The good news is that palm oil buyers are committing to new standards that protect tropical forests. In the last few months alone, L’Oreal, Kellogg, and Mars have announced new commitments to halting deforestation in their supply chains. Altogether, companies controlling a more than half of the global oil palm supply have committed to deforestation-free products by 2015. (IPS News)
  • …But do their commitments measure up? The Union of Concerned Scientists scored 30 of the largest fast food, packaged food and personal care companies’ palm oil commitments compared to their compliance efforts – with discouraging findings.

REDD+, forests, and climate change

  • Sink or source? New studies reveal disturbing changes in the Amazon. Remotely sensed data is beginning to reveal a disturbing trend in the Amazon. Two studies published in Nature confirmed that the rainforests of the Amazon, once thought to be a critical CO2 sink, may actually emit carbon due to increasing droughts and fires. (Eco-Business)

Spatial analysis, remote sensing, and crowd-sourcing for the environment

  • New interactive maps bring transparency to Indonesia, Sarawak, Malaysia. Two newly-launched initiatives hope to improve environmental management and reporting through open, easy-to-use geo-referenced data. Ekuatorial, a project of Internews, provides timely news and visualizations about the oceans, forests, and natural disasters of Indonesia. Nearby in Malaysian Borneo, the Bruno Manser Fonds launched the Sarawak Geoportal, making public troves of information about economic concessions, land use and change, and indigenous lands in the state of Sarawak.
  • Whistleblower platform dedicated to wildlife and forest crime. In many parts of the world, campaigning for conservation can elicit scorn, political retribution, and even threats on one’s life. That’s why a coalition of non-profits have launched WildLeaks, an online platform that allows users to submit reports on wildlife and forest crime securely and anonymously.
  • Tree cover loss alerts every 16 days – how do we do it? Learn more about the methodology behind a key GFW tree cover loss alert system – FORMA – from this blog post, authored by Robin Kraft, one of the data creators. (WRI Insights)
  • Small companies shake up the satellite imagery world. There are currently 160 new earth observation systems in development. And a handful of Silicon Valley-based start-ups could change the way images from space are produced, priced, and sold. Forbes provides a fascinating chronicle of the technical, economic and regulatory forces that have allowed companies like Skybox Imagining and Planet Labs to get their foot in the door, and their satellites in the sky.

Think we missed a story? Let us know! All editorial choices, opinions and any mistakes are the authors’ own.